Metallurgy, Welding, and the Future of Advanced Manufacturing

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the manufacturing and industrial landscape in the United States. As we emerge from it, the shortages and supply chain shocks prevalent in its early stages have generated renewed federal interest in ...

AWS Publications | November 1, 2021 | Tech and Industries
Welding Digest ►  Metallurgy, Welding, and the Future of Advanced Manufacturing

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the manufacturing and industrial landscape in the United States. As we emerge from it, the shortages and supply chain shocks prevalent in its early stages have generated renewed federal interest in reshoring manufacturing capabilities. New processing and control tools will impact much of the landscape that will arise from this planned reinvestment. Significant enhancements in computing power have driven the development of many advanced manufacturing routes enabled by machine learning, artificial intelligence, mechanistic modeling, and process automation.

 

Lead photo: Significant enhancements in computing power have driven the development of many advanced manufacturing routes enabled by machine learning, artificial intelligence, mechanistic modeling, and process automation.

 

While these tools will be central to the growth of an increasingly flexible and adaptable manufacturing base envisioned by Industry 4.0 proponents, metallurgy will be critical to the eventual success of these efforts. New technologies, such as electric and hypersonic vehicles and renewable energy, will require alloys and material combinations capable of meeting higher performance requirements, particularly for lightweight and high-temperature applications. Coupled with an increasing emphasis on sustainability, the integration of recycling and reuse into product and material designs will also stretch current material capabilities and require more efficient processing routes. The important role and newfound interest in metals is also evident in the emergence of additive manufacturing as an alternative processing route for a range of new and existing components. Welding and joining will be featured prominently in these applications, with the implementation of additive manufacturing relying heavily on fundamental welding metallurgy and processing principles through its synergy with multipass welding.

The advanced manufacturing of metals will be more flexible and adaptable than traditional processing routes, which rely on fixed-parameter spaces to improve process control. While many existing cast and wrought processing routes may be utilized, they will be augmented with new energy sources and digital tools capable of adapting to rapid changes in processing parameters and incoming materials. Welding engineers are already familiar with rapid solidification and solid-state phase transformations and the difficulties that they present with the accumulation of residual stresses or compositional variations leading to defects and distortion.

The study of these complex processes has been aided by giant leaps in our ability to monitor the processing of metallic components over spatial and temporal scales not available when many fundamental metallurgy principles were first developed. For example, high-resolution transmission electron microscopy provides atomic-scale resolution, and synchrotron-based x-ray techniques capture phase transformations at microsecond-level time resolutions. Such modern tools, when connected with computational thermodynamics and numerical modeling, are providing us with previously unknown insight into fundamental processes in additive manufacturing and other advanced manufacturing processes.

A stronger grasp of fundamental metallurgy principles is needed. This knowledge base, though, has shrunk as a broader coverage of materials has replaced traditional metallurgy, eroding knowledge of phase transformations, solidification, transport phenomena, refining, extraction, and materials degradation across both graduate and undergraduate curriculums. With the increasing capacity provided by in-situ and digital tools, now is a good time for young engineers and scientists to revisit metallurgy and welding science. Focusing solely on fundamental thermodynamics, kinetics, solidification, and phase transformations taught in the same way misses an opportunity to rethink how to fundamentally transform metallurgy through the application of modern computational and characterization tools. Finding pathways for integrating fundamentals with modern tools will be a challenge for academia in the next decade.

Fig. 2-1A stronger grasp of fundamental metallurgy principles is needed.

 

Now should be an exciting time for metallurgy, especially for those of us with welding and joining backgrounds. The success or failure of many of these emerging processing routes, particularly in additive manufacturing, will depend on how we exploit complex relationships between the processing conditions and the material structure and properties. Metallurgists and welding engineers know the importance of governing process-structure-property-performance relationships, but these concepts need to be relearned by a new generation. We need to embrace fundamental metallurgy principles and the advanced tools that capture complex processing and material interactions at previously unattainable spatial and temporal scales to advance manufacturing.

 

This article was written by Todd Palmer for the American Welding Society.